We are so proud to remember some very talented writers who courageously sent their work to us for analysis during the third edition of our popular, worldwide 'Wild Atlantic Writing Awards,.
It is important to note here, due to its idyllic location in the French countryside, the Languedoc retreat has almost reached its bespoke limit of 10 persons, so we would advise anyone interested to sign up before the end of this week to avoid disappointment.
Also, please enjoy below more stories by finalists of the previous edition of the 'Wild Atlantic Writing Awards.'
Winners and finalists in the latest edition of WAWA will be announced later this month.
“I am really still quite shocked even a few days later,” wrote John McCann, finalist in the creative nonfiction category of the WAWA third edition. “This is only the second time I have ever entered a writing competition and I am a little stunned to find myself a finalist.”
A 53-year-old dentist, John is a native of County Fermanagh, in northern Ireland, living in the picturesque town of Enniskillen. This is John’s account of the process of creating his story, ‘Lola,’ that won him a finalist position.
“I have been writing intermittently for a few years, but only recently made a decision to write for competition," he said. "Primarily I wanted to discover whether my writing would be of interest to anyone outside of my family and friends. It is gratifying and humbling in equal measure to think it has been chosen from hundreds of entries as a finalist.
He added, "I must admit I stumbled upon the competition by accident in a Google search. However, the subject and the constraints laid down hooked my interest immediately. What can be more important than love, but how to express that without ever mentioning the word? It immediately made me want to write something."
He continued, "As I sat to compose my thoughts for the story the idea of love and loss struck me straight away, and I knew what I had to write. It could only be about Lola, our dog. She was a much loved part of our family and is still deeply mourned. The story is real, it is based on the night she was put down. She had a short illness which rapidly degenerated and it was the only thing to end her suffering. She died in the arms of myself and my youngest daughter.
The story was written from the heart and I completed it in one sitting over about two hours with no redrafting or revisions. This is highly unusual for me, as I normally write slowly and revisit and tweak at least half a dozen times before deciding I’m happy.
The most difficult part of writing it was the emotions which it brought to the fore. I shed tears as I wrote it, and all of my family cried when they read it, but it feels like a fitting farewell to her. I also fretted about whether to submit it. I wondered if writing about the love we had for our dog would be seen to be somehow too trivial. Ultimately however, I knew that I had written something that was honest and true, and hoped that readers would respond positively."
by John McCann
The familiar weight of your body presses into me, and your heat radiates through me, intimate and comforting. I want to hug you hard, squeeze you close, never let you go, but you’re too frail, too ill for that. I know these are our last moments together and it’s too much to bear.
You lift your head just a little and your eyes, deep and soulful, meet mine. Saying nothing, you say everything. Devotion, friendship, companionship..... I break off the train of thought, I can’t bring myself to even think the word right now, consumed as I am by its dread companion, heartbreak.
I seek refuge from emotion in the solace of memory. The moment we first met remains etched on my heart. You stood out from the beginning, gentle and quiet but with a self possession that your more brash companions couldn’t even begin to emulate. I recall us sitting together late into the night in those early days, forging a bond unbreakable.
A myriad memories from our younger years pass in front of me. You were so beautiful then, and all this time later, at the end, you still are to me. I’m not blind, I can see the ravages of time. How you’ve slowed down, how your arthritic joints grind and complain as you struggle to stand up, the not so tender joys of old age. But beyond that, the boundless joy and almost frenetic energy of youth still burns in the kernel of your being.
Such times we had. I soon learned that my initial impression was, well, incomplete at best. Gentle certainly, quiet undoubtedly, but wilful and stubborn too. You went your own way, sure of who you were, and we butted heads too often because of that. Now, as the terrible effects of this so sudden final illness is robbing you from me I can’t bear to think of those times I fought you for just being you.
A little snippet of that famous passage from first Corinthians pops into my head, “it keeps no record of wrongs”. That was always you. You never sulked or held a grudge. No matter what falling out we’d had you were always there, ready to make it up in an instant. I learned to be a better person from you, and now I’ve got to let you go and it’s tearing me apart.
He coughs discreetly behind me and I know it’s time. I lift my head, not meeting his eye and nod almost imperceptibly. With practiced, professional grace he administers the injection and steps away leaving us in our final bubble together.
You look into my eyes one last time, and softly slip away into the darkness. Finally I hug you dear and let the tears fall.
“Goodbye my darling Lola.”
He steps forward again then, and rests a consoling hand on my shoulder,
“How old was she?” he asks.
“Thirteen” I reply
The vet nods sympathetically, “A good age for a dog.”
“It’s great to be recognised as a writer but being read is even more important to me,” Maria de Luca, finalist flash fiction category of the WAWA third edition told Ireland Writing Retreat. “I recently sent out a novel (unrelated to this short story) to look for an agent, and four weeks on, have had no full read requests. Fragility of feelings aside, I just hate that my characters have no-one reading them. They’re alive and complicated and meeting each other and having adventures and no-one knows.”
“I work backstage in theatre," she said. "I love my job but would still like to be a writer when I grow up. I was born and raised in Lancashire, did my time in London, have spent a lot of time ‘on the road’ with various theatre shows, and am currently living in Hertfordshire, whilst mostly working in London. To my surprise, I am fifty-five."
Maria said the Writers Guild of Great Britain included the 'West Atlantic Writing Awards' in their weekly newsletter, though the deadline was the next day or the day after. "I’m a member of the WGGB," she said. "They have been really helpful over a couple of contracts queries I had (for projects that, as it turned out, didn’t come to fruition). My story is about love, didn’t contain the word ‘love’, and is less than five hundred words. Could not have been a better match."
She continued, "I can’t remember how the idea came about. Looking in my notebook (where nearly all my stories start – or in ‘Notes’ on my phone) the first mention is a draft of the scene on the towpath, so perhaps it started with that. I do know that it was my first fresh idea of 2021 as the folder on my computer has it as 2nd January.
It took about six weeks of dipping in and out from those first words to the story you read today. The first couple of drafts weren’t super short and had a lot more crepuscular poetry in it, plus a dialogue between the two characters after a crucial moment. But I discovered that there was a flash-fiction story trying to get out. Writing all the words of the original story was relatively easy, taking out the superfluous ones was hard. One early reader didn't spot an important fact even after it was revealed so thought I needed to write more words. I realised that I needed to write fewer but make them work harder. The last line was in the very first draft. The first lines made their first appearance in the final draft."
As for titles, Maria said, "It’s had a few! It started as ‘Without this there’s no going back’, the folder is called ‘Dying to see you again’ and even now it still shuffles between ‘Be with you again’ and ‘To be with you again’. I can spend HOURS putting in and taking out two little letters. Heaven only knows how I managed the novel!
As for being selected as one of the finalists out of hundreds of entrants, well, I’m just grateful for all those talented writers who forgot to do a word check for the word ‘love’ and so decreased their odds.”
To Be With You Again
by Maria de Luca
It wasn’t fury that vitalised Hannah, it was loss, grief even – though heaven knows she shouldn’t be the one grieving. But she couldn’t bear him just carrying on without her.
The canal. That would do it. Owen always cycled too fast along the towpath. But if he had his backpack on, as full and heavy as usual, and if it was clipped into place around his chest, and if she timed it just right… then he was going into the water and he was going to sink. No coming back from that.
Worth a try, thought Hannah. And stepped out.
Owen, racing, his bag in danger of unbalancing him, wobbled. But a squeeze with the hand, a delicate touch on the rear brake, and he carried straight on.
Damn, she thought.
It was too dark, that was it. Dusk was not her friend. Maybe she should try in the morning. But no, there would be too many people around. Too many would-be rescuers.
The adrenalin rush of the canal-side falter briefly snapped Owen out of his bad mood. The change to his rhythm kept him the right side of miserable for almost a mile. He’d begun to suspect he was going through some sort of death-wish phase. Just recently he’d found himself distracted whilst driving; he’d almost crashed, thinking he’d seen someone he knew at the side of the road. He had to keep it together.
Though a part of him asked, why?
Getting into the apartment had been harder than she expected. There were still traces of her time there, which saddened her but made her more determined than ever. Three in the morning was the hour of souls. She just had to keep out of the way until then.
Owen retired to bed early feeing troubled. Like there was something out of place in the apartment. He doubted that bed would be any more restful, but it was better than sitting up drinking, feeling sorry for himself.
It worked to perfection. After Owen finally drifted off in the early hours, Hannah lay down upon the bed. On ‘her side’. Her presence, so physically insubstantial, disturbed him. He rolled towards her and opened his eyes. The shock worked a treat. His heart stopped. She’d done it.
His heart had stopped beating just like hers had six weeks before. Now Owen would be with her.
Come on then, thought Hannah, get up. Her restless spirit had arisen from her corpse straightaway. Why didn’t Owen’s?
And then as she looked at his lifeless body an awful thought occurred. What if his spirit wasn’t going to join hers? What if she was an exception? Maybe he was just… dead?
Eternity would be unbearably lonely.
And it was going to last forever.
“This is amazing, I am so thrilled with the news, thank you” said Mary Bradford, after learning she was a finalist in the flash fiction category of the 'Wild Atlantic Writing Awards' (WAWA) third edition. “I had to reread the email to see I was reading it right, I could not believe I was a finalist.”
The 59-year-old Cork native said, “I've been writing for a number of years now. I enjoy writing short stories, and I also have a trilogy published, 'The Lacey Taylor Story.' My writing started as a hobby when my four children were small, as a stay-at-home Mum. I'm at present a Nana and developing my writing career. I heard about the competition through your newsletter."
She continued,. "I entered the competition because I liked the theme, plus I wanted to be a part of the WAWA experience. My story was inspired by a TV ad, which escapes me now, it was about picking a nursing home. There is nothing like the love a spouse/partner has for their loved one who has dementia. So I thought about what is something that might trigger a memory for the person who is in the home, and I came up with a cake. Often those with dementia, take memory trips back to their childhood, and then I linked it to a more recent memory in their life. I am hopeless at titles! I had Unconditional Love, Lemon Drizzle, The Home as contenders but then decided to keep it simple and went with The Sponge Cake."
She added, "I cannot recall how many drafts I wrote but once I had the bones of the story down, I then edited and rearranged sentences. It was not a once-off one draft only! Knowing I have made the finals of this competition really has raised my spirits, motivated me to keep writing, and that it is a tap on my back, saying well done Mary!”
The Sponge Cake
by Mary Bradford
I bought a pale lemon sponge with sweet strawberry jam and fresh soft cream. Peter’s mother baked sponge cake when he was young, it was his favourite. Now it is again. He’s sitting in his usual spot near the window, watching the leaves change colour. He enjoys nature, always has. You could ask him anything about gardening, and he will know the answer.
‘Hi, Peter.’ I place the cakebox on the table near him. He looks at it and smiles. I gaze at those dreamy blue eyes and watch them sparkle. I remember when he asked me to dance at the local hall, I thought him so handsome and I the luckiest girl in town. ‘How are you today? Anything interesting out in the garden?’ Pulling up a chair, I sit and reach for his hand. He allows me to do this now. Before, it unsettled him, uncomfortable and he got anxious. These days he accepts it, a part of his routine when I visit.
‘Cake? Is it a birthday?’
‘No, not a birthday. I thought it might be nice to have some. Want a slice?’
He is nodding like an excited child.
It is the anniversary of when I lost him. Five years since I whispered goodbye to my wonderful husband of forty eight years. I’ve learnt what not to say, words that worry him because he doesn’t understand. Stories of our holidays, our two daughters, our new grandchild named after him. Peter will stare at me, not knowing how to answer. I’m a stranger after all. Then he would be upset.
He isn’t the only one though. I cry too, but not here. I cry for a life only I remember. Forty Eight years of memories which mean nothing to my soulmate.
I leave the cream cardboard box with him and go ask for some plates and forks. When I return there are three other residents gathered around the table, waiting for the surprise to be revealed. I smile at them and then I drag over some chairs. Pulling on the taped corners, all eyes are on me.
‘Sponge! I bet Mam made this. She knows it’s my favourite.’ Peter shares this snippet with his friends. They look happy, delight for this unexpected treat. I hand out the sliced cake to our company and they thank me like obedient children.
Peter is digging in, not using any fork. His fingers are smeared with sticky jam, the cream oozing out. He licks his fingers and sighs. A contented sigh. He gathers up some more, crumbs catching on his trimmed beard and tumbling onto his chest. The others now filled with happiness wander away, leaving the empty plates after them.
I take my fork and start to eat. The sponge is light and I lick the jam from my lips. Peter is watching me. His eyes following the fork from the plate to my mouth. His tears fall quietly.
‘My wife does that.’
“What a lovely surprise,” said 76-year-old Monica Clarke, finalist in the creative nonfiction category of the WAWA third edition. “It happens to be a big day for me, as a South African, to receive this lovely news today, 16th June, on South Africa Youth Day. Celebrated on 16th June each year, we remember the Soweto Riots of 1976, and for me personally a day which catapulted me onto my tortuous political path.”
Born during the Apartheid regime in South Africa, Monica has been an activist for the liberation movement (ANC) for the last 25 years. She left South Africa as a refugee and was granted political asylum in the UK in the early 1980s.
She is now retired and lives in London with her husband.
During her professional life, Monica worked as a nurse and midwife, later qualifying as a lawyer and practised criminal law (mostly political trials) in South Africa for several years. After settling in London, she worked as a commercial lawyer. When her husband had a stroke she stopped working to look after him full-time and after he passed away she took up a position as an Associate Director in the National Health Service (NHS), UK, specialising in engagement and inclusion. Some of the awards that recognised Monica’s achievements over the years are the Somerset Hospital Midwife of the Year 1963; A Woman of Action (2003), 2020 Fellow, Gratitude Network (Forbes).
Monica was also a journalist with World Pulse, an international online resource for women.
In 2013 she founded I Protect Me, an organisation that empowers women and children in South Africa to speak out and stand up against abuse for which she acts as an advisor now.
Q. How did you learn about our writing competition and what made you enter it?
A. I saw an advert on social media. I am in the process of completing a semi-fictional book about my life which is 90% complete. I thought why not enter the writing competition and fingers crossed I might be fortunate enough to go on a retreat to get the opinion from real writers about my book
Q. How did the idea for your story emerge?
A. Real life experience. I lived it.
Q. How many revisions did your story have before you were satisfied and over what period of time?
A. A couple of re-reads for the purposes of editing. I wrote this short story in one day when the memory of the experience was still sharp in my mind.
Q. What was the most difficult challenge for you in writing your story?
A. Writing in the first person has become very difficult for me, for I sometimes feel too raw about exposing my emotions, especially when my emotions are responses to situations of embarrassment or could be seen as irresponsible or hurtful to others. I then switched to writing in the third person, which seems to be less threatening.
Q. Did you have several titles for your story before you decided on the final one
A. No. The title appeared before the story evolved
Q. How do you feel about being named a finalist out of hundreds of entries?
A. I’m super-excited! You know why? Because I stand in awe of Irish writers and to receive some recognition from Ireland for my writing is a real treat. Years ago I realized a dream on my wish list, when I kissed the Blarney Stone. I have been waiting ever since for the magic of words to pour out of my mouth and I’m still waiting!
by Monica Clarke
She decided to nurse John at home after his stroke. She wanted to do it. She was afraid.
Fear, fear. Fear of everything. Fear of not being able to understand, fear that she might misinterpret him when his life depended on her understanding. Fear of not being understood by him.
Fear eroded her abilities.
Like that morning, when he got out of bed to go to the lavatory. She lay in bed watching him struggle into his wheelchair, feeling too tired to get up.
Bathroom door opened, she heard him grunt. Wheelchair brakes squeaked on. Another grunt. She listened, following his movements from his sounds.
Then silence. No sound. It took a while for the silence to sink through her thoughts. Suddenly her heart started racing, contracting and pinching inside as she heard his cry. A constricted cry in the back of his throat. Again. Very softly this time.
She ran to the bathroom door. Tiny bathroom. For one person at a time. No space to get past.
‘John, do you need me ?’ No response. Only the smell of fear.
Peeping through the open door, she saw him standing up against the wall with his legs against the very hot radiator. Wearing only his vest and boxer shorts. Simply standing. Stick in good hand, paralysed hand hanging against radiator.
‘John, do you need me ?’ This time with panic in her voice.
Still no answer. He stood, mesmerised with fear, staring at the blank wall above the bath. A rubbery statue on two wobbly legs, one faltering with paralysis, the other wavering in fear.
Another little cry, like a wounded animal. She, too, became paralysed.
Both of them stood there, for how long, she did not know.
At last, some movement. Her eyes watched in slow motion. Faeces. A brown mass running down the inside of his leg, slowly through his shorts, onto the floor.
He’d had to use his whole mind to stop his bowels from opening. But he had lost the fight.
Then he started to cry. No sound. No tears. Only his shoulders were shaking. Deep sobs inside a big chest blocked up with sadness. Misery so heavy, it hung around him in a cloud.
‘Please,’ she pleaded. ‘Turn yourself just a bit. Sit on the toilet.’ He did not hear her. Wads of fear had stuffed his ears.
Eventually he allowed her to sit him down, even if it was in a soft cushion of excrement which vulgarly stared her in the eye as she dropped down to clean up.
Then, looking at her big man, crying in shame and embarrassment, her resolve deserted her. Her knees gave in. She sat on the floor in front of him and cried too.
When the moment had exhausted itself, within the quiet which follows such storms, they looked at each other, two middle-aged lovers sitting in crap and tears.
He started laughing first. Then she joined him.
What else was there to do ?